In the early 2000s, a new drug, xylazine, emerged in Puerto Rico among illegal drug users. Locals called it “anestesia de caballo” or “horse anesthetic”. The nickname was not 100% correct as it was not an anesthetic but a non-opioid sedative, analgesic and muscle relaxant used in veterinary medicine on large animals such as horses. Veterinarians also use it as an emetic in cats.
It has some roles in human health care. Doctors give it to treat tetanus. Drug dealers like it because it allows them to cut more expensive drugs. And it prolongs the high. However, the impact on unsuspecting users can be disastrous.
The drug has since spread to the mainland, and researchers first studied it among drug users in Philadelphia. As reported from the BMJ:
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health analyzed data on accidental heroin and/or fentanyl overdose deaths from the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office over 10 years (2010-2019). /or fentanyl overdose between 2010 and 2015 to 262 (31%) of the 858 fatal heroin and/or fentanyl overdose cases in 2019.
By 2021, Xylazine, known on the street as “Tranc”, is set to was found in 91% of opioid samples in Philadelphia. It has spread to other parts of the country. And dealers use it in other drugs like cocaine.
“Data from January through mid-June show that xylazine was present in 28% of the drug samples tested Massachusetts Drug Supply Data Stream (MADDS), a federally funded network of community drug checking and counseling groups that uses mass spectrometry to let people know what’s in bags or pills bought on the street.’
Some areas of the state, including western Massachusetts, see xylazine in 50% to 75% of samples. At Greenfield, that’s a big change from last year when xylazine wasn’t a problem.
Xylazine, like so many other street drugs, has nasty side effects. It leads to drowsiness, which can be disastrous for a heroin user. People lying on one spot can suffer compression injuries. If they are outside, they can be exposed. Being outside puts them at risk of robbery and sexual assault with no recollection of the event. It’s not an opioid, so Narcan, the emergency opioid treatment, is useless against it. And that’s why xylazine ODs are almost always fatal
Perhaps worst of all, infection can occur at the injection site. These infections can lead to abscesses. Prolonged use can cause oxygen starvation of the skin and severe ulcers that ooze pus and have a characteristic odor. And in extreme cases, extremity amputation can occur.
Conservatives will eventually use this as further “proof” that we need a wall along our southern border. As always, they would be dearly wrong. Drugs find their way to the heart of maximum security prisons. And these places are all about walls.
Let’s do a thought experiment. For the sake of argument, we will agree that a wall will block all drug traffic from Mexico and the rest of Latin America. Who thinks that the millionaires and billionaires who have gotten rich from the illegal trade will throw up their hands and say, “That’s it. I’m going to open a chain of laundromats and dollar stores.”?
Now let’s go one step further and say these violent criminals put down their arms and become small business owners. Who thinks the lure of billions doesn’t encourage citizens of other countries to jump on the drug bandwagon? And ship drugs by mail, sea, air and across Canada? Cut off all international sources and home labs will be in every neighborhood.
There is only one way to stop the supply of illegal drugs and take down the traffickers. This is intended to reduce and eliminate the demand for street drugs. And you do that by spending drug-fighting money solely on rehab and healing the conditions that led to addiction in the first place.
I am not an expert in either venture. But I think every addict should have access to rehab as soon as they ask for it. The window is narrow. There’s little point in telling someone to come back next week. In addition, rehabilitation should be holistic. Is the addict homeless, unemployed, or lacking skills? What mental deficits drive them to take drugs? We need to fix these if we are to create working, taxpaying citizens who don’t clog up jails and emergency rooms.
We should set up effective anti-drug campaigns to keep people off drugs in the first place. And when I say effective, I mean more than Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” madness. And the ridiculous fried egg, “that’s your brain on drugs” PSAs.
It wouldn’t be the first time the government has launched effective campaigns against dangerous behavior. MADD inspired federal and state governments to take drink driving seriously. And there have been drunk driving fatalities since 1982 down 45%. And this figure does not take into account the increased number of kilometers driven or cars on the road.
45% of American adults in the mid-1960s smoked. Today it is 12.5%.
Unfortunately, America’s campaign against illegal drugs has been as futile as its inadequate and essentially nonexistent campaign to reduce gun violence and school shootings. Americans remain at unnecessary risk of death from gunfire and are 25 times more likely dying of gun violence as citizens of other advanced countries. Why? Because there is a significant portion of the population that either makes money doing things wrong. Or don’t take the time to think things through.
More than 100,000 Americans will die from drug overdoses in 2022. Another 45,000 will die from one shot. Any program to make America great again requires adults to adopt strategies that reduce so many needless deaths. For the Democrats to retain the House of Representatives and gain two seats in the Senate would be a good start